Everton and the League Cup don't mix

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

'League Cup' is a phrase rarely heard in relation to Everton, though that is hardly surprising for a side turning early exits in this competition into something of an art form. Nearing on two decades without a trophy, the FA Cup remains the best bet in light of the dismal League Cup record.

Steven Naismith
PA PhotosSteven Naismith put Everton into the lead at Fulham.

Everton have only ventured beyond the fifth round once since 1989-90. The record since then shows six second-round exits, seven at this third-round stage, ten in the fourth round, and one squandered semi-final appearance.

Aside from reaching the semi-final in 2007-08, when Everton crumbled on the big stage against Chelsea, the League Cup has become a breeding ground for lower-league shocks and missed opportunities; Tuesday night was the latter.

Having started slowly (to put it kindly) at West Ham, Everton ended the match like a train and thoroughly deserved the victory. The exact opposite occurred at Craven Cottage -- the Blues bossed the first half then proceeded to leave the basics of football in the dressing room in a 2-1 loss to Fulham.

The finger of blame may fall on Roberto Martinez, who made eight changes from the weekend, but the first half vindicated those changes. The failure to progress owed more to basic errors and a lacklustre second half than team selection.

Racing out of the blocks, the much-changed team began displaying the confidence expected of a group unbeaten to this point. James McCarthy and Darron Gibson controlled the midfield, despite the puzzling use of John Heitinga as a holding midfielder, and the attacking players wreaked havoc.

The standout of the first half, Gerard Deulofeu impressed with his close control, quick feet and swift counter-attacking. One first-half turn, in particular, was a thing of beauty and left his red-faced opponent trailing behind him, while a delightful flicked pass created the opening goal for Steven Naismith.

Even so, the remaining rough edges may help explain his sparing use in the league to this point. For all the talent, of which there is plenty, the final ball and decision-making require fine-tuning if the youngster is to become a regular feature.

Elsewhere, Romelu Lukaku built on his weekend debut before fading late on. Boasting no discernible weakness, the 20-year old offers a constant goal threat and Everton look considerably stronger with him leading the line.

Dominant in the first half, the only criticism centred on the inability to turn the pressure into goals. Evident in the three opening draws, this is something that will need addressing as the players continue to adapt to Martinez's methods.

Once the final whistle sounded, and Everton rued another poor League Cup showing, the sense of frustration merely heightened. As mentioned earlier, though Fulham did improve in the second period, this defeat stemmed from sloppy defending and too many indifferent second-half displays.

In spite of the fortune hanging over the equaliser, as there looked to be a clear foul on Lukaku in the build-up, the visiting defence opened up with alarming ease. The desperate lunge of Seamus Coleman, who also missed a sitter at the other end, merely diverted the ball into the path of Dimitar Berbatov. Game on.

Unfortunately, the equaliser seemed well-worked compared to the match-winning goal from Darren Bent. With Everton slow to react to a free kick, Bent had the freedom of the Cottage and beat Joel Robles far too easily.

Led by McCarthy, one of the few to perform throughout, the performance picked up but to no avail. Showing signs of inexperience and a lack of leadership, this cup exit may leave Martinez with more questions than answer about his squad. For the fans, however, this was a case of more of the same in the League Cup.


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